ICAO should be inclusive to incorporate Taiwan into the global aviation family

  • 2022-09-12
  • Andrew H.C. Lee is Representative of Taipei Mission in the Republic of Latvia

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is a UN specialized agency dedicated to ensuring the safe and orderly growth of international civil aviation throughout the world.  ICAO has long invited civil aviation stakeholder to its meetings; however, Taiwan, an important stakeholder in international aviation, has been excluded from ICAO since 1971 for political reasons.

The 41st session of the ICAO Assembly will be held from September 27 to October 7 2022. To promote post pandemic recovery of civil aviation, the theme of the session of the ICAO Assembly will be “Reconnecting the World”. Given the precedent set through its attendance in 2013, Taiwan calls on ICAO to invite Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration (Taiwan CAA) to attend the ICAO Assembly, as well as facilitate Taiwan’s meaningful participation in ICAO’s meetings, activities, and mechanisms to reconnect with Taiwan so that Taiwan can be part of the collective effort to maintain safer skies.  

The importance of the Taipei Flight Information Region (Taipei FIR)

Taiwan is a key air traffic hub connecting Northeast and Southeast Asia. The heavily traveled Taipei Flight Information Region (Taipei FIR), part of the network of over 300 FIRs worldwide and solely managed by Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration. The Taipei FIR oversees 18 international routes, 4 domestic routes, and 17 airports providing civil air services. In 2019, the Taipei FIR provided services to over 1.85 million controlled flights and roughly 72 million incoming and outgoing passengers. In 2021, 66 airlines offered services to and from Taiwan, operating passenger and cargo flights on 172 routes and connecting 76 cities.  

According to Airports Council International (ACI) statistics, Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport was the 4th busiest airport in the world in 2020 in terms of international air cargo handled, and it was the 6th and 10th, respectively, for international cargo and passenger volume in 2019. Similarly, Taiwan’s two largest airlines, China Airlines and Eva Airways, ranked 5th and 16th for international cargo volumes in 2020.

Taiwan’s Professional participation in ICAO to safeguard global aviation safety

To enhance global civil safety and improve nation’s safety oversight efficiency and management capabilities, ICAO has formulated the Global Aviation Safety Plan (GASP), which calls on nations to formulate national safety plans (NASPs) consistent with the regional aviation safety plan (RASPs) formulated by ICAO Regional Offices and other countries.  

The Taiwan CAA has been drafting its NASP, but is hobbled in this pursuit by not being able to participate in ICAO, obtain timely information, or collaborate with other countries in the region.  For example, the Taiwan CAA has had difficulty learning whether it’s safety indices are consistent with regional and global indices.  Only by participating in ICAO can the Taiwan more closely collaborate with others in the region, ensure that its safety indices comply with RASPs and the GASP, and thus better maintain global aviation safety standards.

The Taiwan CAA has long been forced to resort to obtaining information on ICAO standards by indirect channels. Such standards were then incorporated into domestic laws so as to provide national aviation safety oversight standards.  We urge ICAO not to repeatedly ignore the inherent risks of excluding the Taiwan CAA.  Such risks, which are known to ICAO, are fully avoidable.  

ICAO should be inclusive to invite Taiwan to join the global aviation family

For many years, ICAO has invited not only Contracting States, but also non-Contracting States, non-governmental international civil aviation organizations, and airline representatives, to attend Assembly sessions.

Taiwan, despite being an indispensable part of the global aviation network, has been excluded from ICAO meetings, activities, and mechanisms.  Given that Taiwan is unable to participate in ICAO discussions on aviation safety, air navigation services, aviation security, environmental protection, and economic issues, it cannot obtain ICAO information and the latest developments in a timely and comprehensive manner.  Matters of aviation safety transcend national borders and must not be politicized. Only by incorporating the participation of all civil aviation-related stakeholders can ICAO achieve its objectives of meeting the needs of the people of the world for safe, regular, efficient, and economical air transport.

However, in August 2022, China conducted a series of military exercises around Taiwan on short notice. This affected international air routes and jeopardized aviation safety in the Taipei FIR and neighboring FIRs. The Taiwan CAA did not receive advance communication from China.  In an effort to avert danger and alleviate safety concerns, it had to plan for and guide aircraft, including many foreign aircraft, departing, arriving in, and transiting the Taipei FIR over a very short period of time.  The case burdened airlines with additional costs due to their need to take longer and more expensive journeys and substantially increased unforeseen risk.  From both a risk and safety management perspective, ICAO should allow the Taiwan CAA to participate in ICAO so that it is able to communicate with other FIRs and provided and obtain timely information via ICAO, as well as contribute to regional and global aviation safety, thus achieving ICAO’s objective of reconnecting the world in the post pandemic era.

Including Taiwan, Reconnecting the World

The Taiwan CAA maintains the highest possible service standards and level of safety in the Taipei FIR, and complied with ICAO’s Standards and Recommended Practices. The Taiwan CAA will continue to work to meet ICAO standards to further its contributions to international civil aviation and safeguard global aviation safety.

In 2013, the Director General of the Taiwan CAA was invited to attend the 38th session of the ICAO Assembly as a “guest” of the Council President of ICAO.  This was widely welcomed and deemed consistent with the ICAO goal of creating a seamless aviation safety network.  Given the precedent set in 2013, and the objectives of promoting post pandemic recovery and reconnecting the world, we call on ICAO to invite Taiwan CAA to attend the 41st session of the ICAO Assembly, as well as facilitate Taiwan’s meaningful and professional participation in ICAO meetings, mechanisms, and activities.